Three Democratic senators on Wednesday urged the Department of Transportation to increase airline passenger compensation for canceled and delayed flights when the airline is at fault.
The pressure campaign comes on the eve of Thanksgiving, as airlines brace for near pre-pandemic levels of travel.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote that airlines should be liable for passengers’ “secondary costs” when they cancel or “significantly” delay a flight.
“The refund rule should require airlines to cover secondary costs – such as hotel rooms, food and drink and round-trip airport transport – when an airline, due to a problem within its control, cancels or significantly delays a flight,” the senators wrote.
Politico first reported the senators’ letter.
Airlines have refunded more than $600 million to hundreds of thousands of passengers for canceled or changed flights since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Department of Transportation.
But federal regulators say some airlines have bent the rules. The department imposed $7.25 million in fines on six airlines for “extreme delays in reimbursing those refunds to passengers,” Buttigieg said this month. This brings the total fines issued for 2022 to $8.1 million – a civil penalty record for the department’s consumer protection program.
In August, major airlines said they would provide food and accommodation if they caused a cancellation after Buttigieg pressed them to upgrade their customer service commitments.
The three senators urged the department to further strengthen its ticket refund rule proposal for airline passengers, noting that domestic airlines have canceled nearly 3% of flights and delayed 21% of flights over the past few years. first eight months of 2022, citing data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
“These regulations are a critical response to increased flight cancellations and delays during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a record number of consumer complaints about the refund process,” the senators wrote.
Katherine Estep, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the industry’s leading trade group, said their members “fully comply with all federal laws and regulations regarding cash refunds.” Estep added that in the first nine months of 2022, US passenger airlines “issued $8.3 billion in cash refunds, more than all refunds issued in 2021.”